Retail, Innovation and Manufacturing reporter for the NZ Herald

Workout industry bulks up: Gym business worth $494 million

'Twas the season to be jolly and physiques have suffered, but for many, now is a time to fulfil one of the timeless New Year's resolutions: join a gym.

New Zealand's exercise industry is a growing one. According to statistics from industry body Exercise Association New Zealand (ExerciseNZ), the sector has grown by 6.5 per cent on average each year since 2010.

In New Zealand the industry is worth about $494 million according to industry training organisation Skills Active Aotearoa; globally it's some $120 billion.

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ExerciseNZ chief executive Richard Beddie says the industry has not peaked yet.

"In the last 10 years it's grown more than 50 per cent and I don't think there's ever been a year, including during the recession, when it didn't grow," Beddie says.

"Often you see certain sectors will grow quite rapidly but then reach a point and begin to flatten off. That hasn't happened yet."

ExerciseNZ data from last year shows that 15.6 per cent of the population, approximately 717,000 people, belong to a gym.

Earlier data showed that between 2008 and 2013, the number jumped from 450,000 members to 595,000 - 32 per cent growth in five years.

In the past decade, says Beddie, the sector has changed, becoming dominated by large gym chains.

Exercise Association of New Zealand chief executive Richard Beddie. Photo/supplied
Exercise Association of New Zealand chief executive Richard Beddie. Photo/supplied

"Ten years ago New Zealand was very unique in that, with the exception of a few, almost all gyms were independently owned," he says. "It was made up of ma and pa operators. Now the biggest four or so gyms would all be big chains."

Major players include the likes of Les Mills, Jetts Fitness, City Fitness and Just Workout, which operate throughout the country.

Family-owned business Les Mills is at the higher end of the market. Founded in 1968 by Olympic and Commonwealth Games athlete Les Mills, the company is estimated to be worth about $100m, according to PwC's 2014 Family Business survey.

One of the world's largest providers of choreographed group fitness classes, its workouts are licensed by 17,500 gyms and studios in 100 countries.

The business is targeting 20 million members or users of its classes by 2020.

Head of marketing and sales Guy Needham says the New Year is a particularly busy time for the company.

"While we find that membership growth is pretty consistent month-on-month, January is one of our most popular times for people to 'try-before-you-buy' our clubs," Needham says.

"New Year resolutions, wanting back that beach body and general health after two weeks of excesses all come into play.

"Also, those who may have put their memberships on hold come back with a new dedication to get healthier."

Beddie says that as well as the New Year period, changes of season are also peak times for new memberships, with busy periods at the start of winter and summer.

Les Mills is well-known for its marketing strategies, which include offering incentives such as free gym gear or membership discounts for people who sign up friends or family. Needham says this has been a successful way to entice new members.

"When it comes to getting people to commit to a membership, we find that often it is friends and workmates who give them a nudge," Needham says. "So promotions that reward the 'nudger' are successful."

changes of season are also peak times for new memberships, with busy periods at the start of winter and summer. Photo / 123RF
changes of season are also peak times for new memberships, with busy periods at the start of winter and summer. Photo / 123RF

As well as marketing campaigns and promotions, Beddie says growth in the industry will continue to be driven by two main factors.

One is growth in what would previously have been viewed as non-traditional exercise. Yoga, pilates, and high-intensity bootcamp style exercises are becoming increasingly mainstream, he says, with some people opting to join a gym as well as doing these activities.

The other growth area is in the number of gym providers.

Revenue is probably the one that is the most tightly guarded in the sense that it's not at all publicly available and you could hazard guesses but they're all based on conjecture rather than actual numbers. It would be between Les Mills, Jetts and City Fitness.
Richard Beddie, CEO Exercise Association

Beddie says the biggest growth has been in low-cost and 24-hour gym chains - a trend seen globally.

"Less than five years ago there would have been fewer than a couple of dozen 24-hour operators and now there would be over 150 in New Zealand," Beddie says.

"So it's quite a big growth and most of those would be at the lower-cost end of the market.

"Ten years ago we didn't have Jetts in New Zealand and now there are 56."

Jetts is New Zealand's largest chain by gym number, and still growing. Its biggest rival in the 24-hour market is American chain Snap Fitness, which has 48 gyms.

Both have no fixed-term contract memberships and are open 24 hours a day.

Beddie says that while 24-hour operation is touted as a difference, this isn't often a major factor in gym-goers' choice; not many people are working up a sweat in the gym during the wee small hours, he believes.

The challenge to keep growing the industry is to ensure that the products offered continue to meet the consumer's changing needs, making them effective in helping people reach their goals, and something those people want to do long term, he says.

In terms of the biggest club by revenue or membership, Beddie says it is hard to tell.

"Revenue is probably the one that is the most tightly guarded in the sense that it's not at all publicly available and you could hazard guesses but they're all based on conjecture rather than actual numbers," he says.

"It would be between Les Mills, Jetts and City Fitness."

Average membership numbers for a gym are typically around 1000 or fewer, although large gyms could have upwards of 5000 to 10,000 members.

Les Mills has previously said its Auckland central gym has about 11,000 members - enough to make it a mega-club anywhere in the world, says Beddie.

Owning or running a gym is one way of chasing a profit, but the personal training business is also on the rise.

The number of employees in New Zealand's exercise sector has increased from 4500 in 2005 to 6700 last year according to Skills Active.

Of this number, 2700 are registered with the NZ Register of Exercise Professionals.

The industry is under review by the Commerce Commission, which is looking into exercise contracts as part of a crackdown to ensure fair terms and conditions, following a law change in 2015. It says there are potential concerns about a number of terms in contracts, including lengthy notice periods on cancellation, the high cost of early termination fees and terms that make cancellation difficult.

A result on the exercise industry is expected around March, says a commission spokesperson, who says the commission is looking at gyms of varying sizes.

Jetts is New Zealand's largest chain by gym number, and still growing.
Jetts is New Zealand's largest chain by gym number, and still growing.

Consumer New Zealand chief executive Sue Chetwin said last year that changes to contract terms had not been fast enough.

"Our review found the industry has been slow to respond to the law change," Chetwin said.

"Gyms often require 30 days' notice if you want to cancel after your minimum membership term ends. Some even include a clause saying your cancellation won't take effect until the gym confirms it in writing.

"These terms make it unnecessarily difficult to end a gym membership and we think they're unfair."

Beddie says it isn't a bad thing for the commission to look into the issue as gym contracts are extremely common.

"The biggest change for us as an industry is that, for example, if you are joining for 12 months and the contract says you can't cancel - that is no longer enforceable in a simple sense because that is regarded by the Commerce Commission as an unfair term."

"Broadly speaking, it's around fairness in contract," Beddie says.

"One of the key areas is that idea of what happens during a term if I've agreed to pay for it but circumstances change - so there have to be options for that."

The big players
Jetts
• 56 gyms
• Single person: $12.95 per week + $89 joining fee + $49 access pass
• Open 24/7, no classes, no contract
• Founded in 2007 in Australia
• International

Snap Fitness
• 48 gyms
• Single person: Around $16.20 per week + joining fee (differs slightly by club)
• Open 24/7, no classes, no contract
• Founded in 2003 in the US
• International

CityFitness
• 26 gyms
• Single person: $13.99 per week + $39 joining fee
• Open 24/7, classes, no contract
• International

Les Mills
• 12 gyms
• Single person: $26.50 + $29 joining fee
• Opening hours vary, classes, minimum 12-month contract
• Founded in 1968 in New Zealand
• International

Just Workout
• 8 gyms
• Single person: $21.95 + $15 admin fee
• Opening hours vary, classes, minimum 12-month contract
• Founded in 1996
• New Zealand only

- NZ Herald

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